“You’re not my real mom!”
Usually a honeymoon period exists during which most, if not all, parties of the blended family are on their best behavior. You laugh. You talk. You manage not to kill one another. And then it happens. Those dreaded words. Maybe you anticipated those frightful words. Maybe not. Whatever the case, you were likely not prepared for them. And they hurt. Guess what? They were intended to hurt.
Most often, this phrase is uttered to express anger or resentment. It’s a tool kids use to provoke a response. They don’t get their way? They hate you. They don’t like their punishment? They hate you. However, the words that best take aim are those that undermine your authority in your home and in your stepchild’s life. Thus, you get singled out as the proverbial wicked stepmother. That’s way better than merely hating you!
You are not alone. Multitudes of stepparents have heard these very same words thrust at them throughout the ages. The internet is rife with posts regarding how to respond, how not to respond. A facebook page even exists dedicated to the subject! Remember, you don’t need to fall into the trap that your stepchild has set for you.
Here’s what every stepparent needs to know.
1. Forego the adversarial language:
In a tense situation, your natural tendency is “fight or flight”. (Let’s work from the premise that flight is not an option because little Tommy’s tantrum is likely not divorce material.) Fighting merely ends in an adversarial stand-off. Engaging in language such as, “I’m the boss, you’ll do what I say,” only serves to pit you against your stepchild. When that occurs, it becomes a choice of who is right or wrong. In this case it may be neither or both. Temper the anger. Hold your tongue. Get to the heart of the matter– the issue that’s really at hand.
2. Avoid a power struggle:
You don’t have to fight every fight that you’re invited to. You get to pick your battles. At this point, your stepchild wants to wrestle power from you, to grab adult authority and to belittle your efforts. By engaging in a power struggle with a child you are allowing them to set rules and to define behaviors in the home. Don’t engage in a back and forth exchange. Instead, attempt to defuse the situation quickly.
3. Remember that you are working on building a respectful relationship:
All parents, including biological parents, struggle with their children’s attitudes. It’s a given that as children age they begin to question ideas and behaviors in an effort to develop their own set of values. Know that each occasion to engage with your stepchild is a teaching opportunity. It’s a chance to build trust and stability in the home.
Also, while you are aware of your place in the family and the concept that you are not attempting to replace your stepchild’s biological mother, maybe that concept is not clear to your stepchild. When the situation is defused, take the time to communicate this sentiment to your stepchild and your partner.
Ineffective response: “You’ll do what I say.”
Effective Response: “I realize that I’m not your biological mom but I am a parent who loves you and wants what is best for you.”
After the anger has subsided, it is important to discuss the underlying issues in your stepparent-stepchild relationship. Maybe it’s time for a walk together, or even a family meeting. As a stepparent, your role in disciplining your stepchild will evolve. In the early days, you may act as merely as an adviser to your husband, but in time you will earn the trust of your stepchild and thus, be more involved in the discipline process. In time, the seeds of love, trust and patience will be sown. Then, you can look forward to the day when you have a relationship where your words are welcomed rather than inspiring a call to arms.